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Larry Hazzard on Tyson’s NJ License

Posted on 04/15/2008

If you haven’t learned by now, Larry Hazzard, the head of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, decided a few weeks ago to grant Mike Tyson a boxing license. This would open the doors for Atlantic City to showcase future big-money Tyson fights.

However, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey immediately made public statements against Tyson which suggested he would try to overturn Hazzard’s decision.

While the Governor’s anti-Tyson position (dont forget, he’s an outsider to the boxing community) may seem logical to most of the population, it might actually be a very unfair one. If the Governor was more closely familiar with Tyson’s behavior and conduct lately, he might reconsider his hardline stance.

There have been several concrete examples over the last two years that show how much Tyson has changed for the better. Remember how likeable and funny he was as a guest host with Jimmy Kimmel on his ABC show? Remember how Tyson showed so much dignity and sportsmanship in losing to Lennox Lewis? Remember how kind and compassionate he was after KOing Clifford Etienne? How about when Tyson visited the Vitali Klitschko-Kirk Johnson post-fight press conference and when Klitschko noticed him and said, “I see Mike Tyson is here. And by the look in his eye, it looks like he is here to challenge me.” Tyson responded with a quiet, non-confrontational quip which seemed intended as a joke, “Only if your promoter buys me a new Ferrari.”

Another example of Tyson that was stunningly commendable is when he entered Madison Square Garden for the Byrd-Golota event on April 17th. Before taking his seat, the ex-champ circled the entire floor of the arena – to greet and shake hands and take pictures with boxing fans (this took several minutes). Tyson clearly seems to be going out of his way to become a much more positive influence on society than what he was in the past.

The bottom line is Larry Hazzard knows as well, if not better, than anyone that Mike Tyson will honor and not shame his New Jersey boxing license. Hazzard has worked with and has been a friend of Tyson’s for well over a decade. They have mutual respect.

Larry Hazzard has been New Jersey’s boxing commissioner since 1985 (appointed by Governor Tom Kean). While interviewing Mr. Hazzard, I got the feeling that he is willing to lay his reputation on the line for Mike Tyson. That’s how sure Hazzard is that Tyson will not let him or the State of New Jersey down. He is absolutely passionate about the sociological importance in granting Mike Tyson another chance.

Read on for more of what Commissioner Hazzard had to say on this matter: First thing I wanted to ask you is – How is it looking regarding Tyson fighting again in New Jersey?

Larry Hazzard: “Well, I don’t know if you’re aware of the latest. As you know, I gave him the license. And you are aware of the opposition from the Governor’s office? (Yes). I expect that there will be an effort – a successful effort probably – on behalf of the Governor to have that license rescinded. Because, as you know, there’s a Board – the Athletic Control Board actually consists of three members…you know about the other member (Gerry) Gormley who was fired? (Yes.) Okay, so now there’s two members there. And the reason I say “probably a successful effort” – I think that because – those people are appointed by the Governor. Do you follow me? (Yes.)

He (Gov. McGreevey) has already promised that he is going to request that the Board look at the licensing – which is something that has never been done since the creation of this entire agency. It’s never been done, that a Governor has interfered with the licensing process. And if they succeed in rescinding the license, then the ball is going to be in Tyson’s court. I’m fairly sure that the Tyson people will challenge that in the courts.” The Governor might be correct – judging on Tyson’s behavior of more than two years ago. Since the Lewis fight, Tyson has been a totally transformed human being. I have witnessed him at the press conferences, at ringside of major fights, conversing with fans, training the kids at Gleasons, and he has been nothing short of a class act. That’s my perspective as a media observer. Surely, you being a friend of Tyson for over a decade – what can you say about the way Tyson carries himself now?

Larry Hazzard: “Well, I would say that you are absolutely right. His behavior now, as a matter of fact, I based his present behavior…that’s the basis on which I gave him the license. Based on his present behavior…isn’t that the way it should be? I also took into account certain aspects of his past behavior and the fact that he has paid dearly for his past behavior. He went to jail for three years for the situation that occured in Indiana. He was fined over $3 million for the earbiting incident with Evander Holyfield. He has to do community service (training kids for 100 hours at Gleasons Gym in Brooklyn) for the little ruckus that he got into over in New York – which was probably not his fault. So, like anybody else, like any athlete, like any citizen, he has paid for his misbehavior.” Has there been any specific instances – you have been one-on-one with Tyson – that really convinced you that Tyson is a changed, matured person. He realizes being bad doesn’t pay…what am I trying to say here, help me Larry.

Larry Hazzard: “He’s deserving of another chance! That’s what you’re trying to say.” Yes. The loss to Lewis changed his life, his attitude. It really seems to have changed Tyson so much for the better.

Larry Hazzard: “Have you ever seen an athlete more gracious in defeat (in the post-fight interview with Lennox on TV). Okay, that was the first indication. Maybe the beating from Lewis was what he needed. They say God works in mysterious ways. Maybe that Lewis beating was what Mike Tyson actually needed, aside from the losses to Holyfield, maybe it was the Lewis beating that really changed this man’s life. And not only that, you never saw an athlete more gracious in defeat. And you never saw one more compassionate in victory – then when he beat Etienne. Remember that? So I’m saying, this guy is a different guy. Do you know what convinced me? What convinced me is when the man came to my office and had a talk with me. I could see the sincerity in his eye. I could see it in his eye. I could hear it in his voice. And then when the man said to me, ‘Please Mr. Hazzard, please commissioner, give me this opportunity. I give you my word.’

Do you understand? Just that expression right there, that did it. ‘I give you my word.’ Do you understand?

And his behavior since he has received this license is further proof to me that the man is a changed individual. Did you see the ESPN interview the other night? (No.) It was excellent.” One of the concerns of the State politicians is about a “bad element” that may be attracted to a Tyson event…

Larry Hazzard: “Here’s what you have to understand. You have to base everything on the here, now. If your’e going to talk about bad elements for Mike Tyson, then you have to use the same standards for everyone else. You should not make him have to meet a separate standard. This is government. When we, the citizenry of the State or Country…we look to the government for a fair deal. We know that we may not get a fair deal in other entities in society. But when you look to government, that’s a place where everyone wants to feel that – if I’m going to be treated fairly, it’s going to be at the government level. Now, when you can’t get a fair deal at the government level, then something is very wrong with this country.”

(Stay tuned to Boxinginsider for more with N.J. Commissioner Larry Hazzard.)

Closing comment: Governor McGreevey’s knee-jerk reaction to reject Mike Tyson from boxing in New Jersey may seem wise and logical in the short-term. But with no risk, there is no reward. If the Governor were to permit Tyson to work in New Jersey again, the long term message could be much more beneficial and influential. Imagine Tyson living up to Larry Hazzard’s expectations, and – win or lose – continuing to conduct himself as a model sportsman…Tyson could very well become sort of a universal symbol…that good always overcomes evil in the end. And New Jersey can be the stage, can become a part of history in the making.

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